CHD: the basics

CHD stands for congenital heart defects, the defect being in the structure of the heart and its great vessels and the congenital part meaning the condition is present at birth. CHD is an umbrella term for lots of different conditions, some of which may cause blood to flow abnormally through the heart, while others may obstruct blood flow in some way or affect the heart’s rhythm.

Heart defects are the leading cause of birth defect related deaths and are among the most common, too. Around 5,000 babies are born with some form of heart defect yearly in the UK, 3,000 of which will require major surgery.


Of those 3,000, only about a third are detected before birth, meaning doctors and parents can plan and prepare for their treatment carefully and effectively, making sure the baby is born in the right conditions and with immediate access to the specialist care they need.

But what about the other 2,000 babies with life-threatening heart problems which aren’t detected before birth? Well, around 1,000 will be picked up just after birth, during general newborn health checks in hospital. But that means 1,000 head home undetected – with no one realising their lives are in danger. This is what Tiny Tickers is working to change.

factoid4Who is at risk?

Every pregnancy has a very small risk (about 1%) of a congenital heart defect and, more often than not, there is no known cause. This risk increases to around 3% if there is a family history of CHD, and can rise to 10% is more than one relative or parent is affected. Do make sure your GP is informed about your family’s medical history so that you can receive proper guidance on everything from advice to nuitrition (folic acid is recommended for all mums-to-be). Likewise, make sure your relatives are in the know about any experience of CHD in your family so that they can do the same.

Risk of CHD can also be increased if the mother has certain infections, such as rubella, during pregnancy or if the baby has Down’s syndrome.

What is the treatment?

For mild defects, often no treatment is needed – for example, some holes in the heart improve. But, for major defects, surgery is usually needed – in the most complex cases sometimes more than one open heart operation must be done. Success rates are high, and the vast majority of children with major defects now survive into adulthood.

What can I do?

If you’re pregnant: order your free Big Tick information card, so you know more about your baby’s heart and the sort of questions you can discuss with your sonographer at your 20 week scan.

If you’re not pregnant, click here to see how you can make a difference.